Sonam Saigal Mumbai:, December 01, 2021 11:18 IST Updated: December 01, 2021

Court rejects default bail of eight others

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted bail to human rights activist and trade unionist Sudha Bharadwaj in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case.

It, however, but rejected the bail pleas of eight other accused — Rona Wilson, Varavara Rao, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. They are all lodged at the Taloja Central Jail.

Ms. Bharadwaj was taken into custody by Pune police on October 27, 2018. She was produced before the Additional Sessions Judge, Pune, K.D. Vadane, who remanded her in police custody for 10 days. On November 22, the public prosecutor filed a report seeking extension of period for investigation. On November 26, she filed for bail under the Code of Criminal Procedure as the 90-day period from the date of her arrest and production before the magistrate had expired. Judge Wadane, however, extended the period of detention by 90 days.

Eventually, the chargesheet was filed and on February 21, 2019. Judge Vadane took cognisance of the offence and issued processes against Ms. Bharadwaj. Additional Sessions Judge Ravindra Pande and S.R. Navandar also rejected the default bail of all the accused.

Advocates Yug Chaudhry and Payoshi Roy appearing for Ms. Bharadwaj filed for default bail on the ground that Judge Vadane was not competent to extend the detention by 90 days and for taking cognisance of the offences as he was a designated special judge under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act. The advocates argued that none of the judges was appointed special judges by the Central government. The second ground was that Ms. Bharadwaj had the right to be released on default bail and ought to have been released on January 25, 2019 as the chargesheet was filed only on February 21, 2019.

The other co-accused filed a common plea for quashing and setting aside the September 5, 2019 order by Additional Sessions Judge Ravindra Pande. They were represented by advocates Sudeep Pasbola and Barun Kumar, who contended that Judge Pande had no jurisdiction to take cognisance, since the case was not committed by a magistrate.

A division bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar directed that Ms. Bharadwaj be produced before special NIA court on December 8 to pass an order on terms and conditions for default bail.

The 120 page judgment read, “On the touchstone of the guarantee of personal liberty under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution, in our view, to deprive Ms. Bharadwaj of the indefeasible right on the premise that the application preferred on November 26, 2018 was premature, would be taking a too technical and formalistic view of the matter. In our view, all the requisite conditions to release Ms Bharadwaj on default bail stood fully satisfied.

On the eight other accused, the court held that that the applicants did not avail the right to be released on default bail before the respective chargesheets were filed against them on November 15, 2018, and February 21, 2019.

The Bench had concluded the hearing on Bharadwaj’s default bail plea and reserved a verdict on August 4. It had concluded the hearing of pleas by the eight other accused, reserving the orders, on September 1.

In their plea, the eight other accused also said that persons booked under the UAPA had to be produced before a special NIA court and that the Sessions Judge had no power to take cognizance of their pleas.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who represented the Maharashtra government and Pune Police, argued against default bail to Bharadwaj saying her counsel had referred to selective portions of the apex court verdict favourable to her case.